Jaybird X3: Pricier is Not Always Better

I was excited after working to meet a savings goal to purchase the Jaybird X3 Wireless Earbuds. At the time of this review’s posting, they are still marked down in the Runkeeper store from $129.99 to $99.99. With my “personal record” Runkeeper discount code on top of that, the price was the lowest it would ever be. I sprang for them.

Unfortunately, after going for just one run with the sport earbuds, I’m already trying to return them.

In this post I tell you why. But first, the good.

What the Jaybird X3s Have Going for Them

The first impression was good, as the packaging is clever and tasteful.

Here’s what’s inside the box:

One of the reasons I got the earbuds is that they come with three different cap sizes, both in silicone and memory foam. They look like this:

The size differences are subtle but noticeable when trying them on. It didn’t take very long for me to land on the medium ear tips.

Pairing via Bluetooth was hassle-free.

My second impression was also quite positive. I put them in and they sounded great. I played a couple familiar songs and heard quiet parts I had never noticed before. Yes! These were going to be a smart move.

Why I Plan to Send Them Back

Here’s where it went downhill.

I’m ready to grant that such a customizable ear bud will take some time to get right, especially the first time. But 20-30 minutes to work through the documentation and figure out how to put them on? That seems a bit excessive. The quick start user guide diagrams were not exactly clear:

Having the remote control so close to the earbud just seems like a design error:

But I went for it, and tried the over-ear “sport fit.” I did use the cord clips so that the connecting cord wouldn’t bounce around:

This did, indeed, make things more secure, but not perfectly. There’s also a shirt clip, but why would I want to clip my “wireless” earbuds to a shirt? The whole reason I wanted X3s was to avoid having headphone cords anywhere near my shirt. The shirt clip defeats the purpose of having these be wireless—even the cord that attaches each earbud to the other makes for added hassles (like the cord clips).

Not only that, but the act of reaching behind my ear and having to push the remote control against my head to be able to access the volume buttons seemed anti-ergonomic.

Despite my efforts, the left earbud did not stay in place as well as the right earbud (which was a perfect fit). There are ear fins included, but only if you have another good 20 minutes to experiment before heading out.

As for sound, the X3s cut out at least seven times on my 30+ minute run (despite a strong Bluetooth connection). The sound also pulsated during my run. I.e., it was not a consistent, clear sound, despite the X3s having sounded great when I was sitting still. Additionally, after about 40 minutes of use (max), the battery had gone from 40% to 20%, which definitely doesn’t translate to the advertised 8 hours of battery life.

Another annoyance is that there is no left and right bud. You can wear these both over the ear or under the ear, but you reverse buds (and also location of the remote) to do so. So when I have them over the ear, an artist and producer who have deliberately panned a song track to the right have it come through on the left. Under the ear gives me the track panned right.

Does this not unsettle you?

For audiophiles, this will be a frustration. It’s like gazing on a mirror image of the Mona Lisa.

You can actually switch this in the accompanying app, to correct the flipping around you’re doing. In other words, you can make your now-left earbud act as your right earbud, so you can hear the tracks as intended. But at some point one just gets overwhelmed with too much customizability and having to do too much to get these expensive buds to just work.

I love the idea of these. And the sound in and of itself is really good. But I think Jaybird needs to go back to the drawing board with design—maybe even lose the cord altogether and make these two free-standing earbuds that magnetically clip to each other so you don’t lose them when not in use. Then they’d truly be “wireless.”

So… if the Runkeeper store will take them back, I’m returning them. More expensive is not always better. There are a bunch of $30 pairs of wireless earbuds on Amazon with higher ratings, so you’ll probably see a review of one of these here soon.

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